I am not fit.

My garage is not clean.

I have not written a novel.

Where did my commute time go?

Like many of you, I have not been commuting since the COVID-19 outbreak began. After six months of “staying safer at home,” I calculated that I had saved a whopping 480 hours of time. I just couldn’t point to anything to show for it… not even one loaf of sourdough bread. Time, over these past months, seems to have slipped through my hands with only work and consumption of way too much news having filled my days. I approached each week waiting for the “all clear” bell to ring so I could return to life as normal. Since that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, I decided to be more productive and have something to show for my time in quarantine.

A quick internet search proved there is no shortage of advice or ideas on how to spend one’s time. Should I learn to speak French, make designer focaccia, take up embroidery, declutter every inch of my home, teach my dog to do TikTok-worthy tricks? I was open to just about anything as long as I was productive. After sharing my quest with a friend, he suggested I set my sights a bit higher than having a TikTok dog. Rather, he recommended I practice living and working more “intentionally.” I admit that I had no idea what this meant, but after a bit of research here’s what I’ve learned and how it can help make my (and maybe your) hours count.

Living and working intentionally means defining your own core values and priorities. Identifying what matters most to you and why. And then, aligning yourself to these values in everything you do and every choice you make. For example:

  • Relationships: Identify the relationships that really matter and invest your time and attention in them. Toxic relationships? Let them go. Focus on the important and meaningful ones. Take the time to call a friend, family member, mentor, business associate or donor. Check in and express your gratitude for them.
  • Responsibility: Determine your priorities and then go all in. Whether it is the environment, social injustice or disease areas, get involved by volunteering and investing your money. At work, identify your most important goals and go after them with creativity and gusto. Do what it takes to reach your goals by enlisting the help of others, learning new skills or finding a new approach.
  • Habits: Decide which habits will enhance your work and life, then set small goals to incorporate them into your daily routine. This is less intimidating if done in small, manageable chunks. For example, make your bed and clear off your desk. It seems simple but it starts the day with a “win.” Set a timer for 30 minutes of uninterrupted focus on an important report or project without checking email. Stop multitasking on zoom calls; listen authentically to the other person.
  • Health: Choose to focus on your health by getting enough rest, eating healthy and getting some exercise and fresh air. Don’t neglect your mental health or that of your family or co-workers. Isolation and limited social interaction can lead to sadness or depression. And, one sure-fire way to improve your own attitude is by demonstrating kindness to those around you… even those you don’t know.

Will I emerge from the pandemic in marathon shape with a home sparkling like the pages of Real Simple? Probably not, but I can share that I am more focused on my values and priorities. My bed is made, my desk is clear and the simple act of setting focused time for important project work has amped up my productivity and brought me closer to my goals. I’m checking in with my friends, family and colleagues more frequently and in a more meaningful way. And above all else, I am choosing kindness.

I hope the concept of intention can make your pandemic time more productive in ways that really matter to you. Feel free to send me any tips you might have. After all, I’m still new at this. As the author Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”